Weekend Wrap-Up
Prisoners Escape the Competition
By John Hamann
September 22, 2013

Look out for the adamantium claws!

While Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Warner Bros. will be quite pleased with the success of their new film Prisoners this weekend, while the flop Battle of the Year keeps balance with the force. The second weekend holds for Insidious Chapter 2 and The Family were also nothing to write home about, as the overall box office holds steady when compared to the same weekend last year.

With the very wide release of Prisoners this weekend, the new drab thriller starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaall, the almost six-month long Oscar season opens for business. Think it’s too early? In 2011, Moneyball came out this weekend, and in 2010, The Town was also released over this late-September frame (I am not sure why The Hollywood Reporter keeps saying that this is Argo’s release pattern – the Oscar winner came out in mid-October). This weekend we get Prisoners to kick it off; next weekend we get Don John and Ron Howard’s Rush. In the weekends that follow, movies like Gravity and Captain Phillips will be released, and the list goes on.

It isn’t until the pre-Thanksgiving weekend of November 22nd when we get a break from a highfalutin movie, when Hollywood releases Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Vince Vaughn’s Delivery Man, but a previously limited release like Alexander Payne’s Nebraska or Dallas Buyers Club could expand in that frame. Last year, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master came out over an earlier mid-September weekend and was too early, as that movie peaked and was out of the minds of nominators (or the Scientologists made it go away, who knows). With Warner Bros. releasing Prisoners this weekend, they have to hope for a long run against some serious competition looming ahead.

The good news is that Prisoners started its run with a bang. The Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) release earned a powerful $21.4 million, more than expected for a tough-to-watch thriller (children in peril) that carries an R rating and 146 minute run time (like Mystic River). Warner Bros. certainly has faith in Prisoners, as they released it to a gargantuan 3,260 theaters. Despite the two A-listers above the title, Prisoners is not a blockbuster. It appears to be a dark, downbeat, revenge thriller that asks “How far would you go to protect your child?” The answers to that question can lead to some pretty dark places, so good for Warner Bros. in finding a hook to bring in audiences. Besides Jackman and Gyllenhaal, Prisoners also has a top notch supporting cast that includes Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Maria Bello, and Viola Davis. These names say quality, and audiences came out. Reviews were solid but not spectacular at 79%, and the Cinemascore came in at a B+.

Marketing also played a big role in the success of Prisoners. Warner Bros. launched the film at the Telluride Film Festival, and then showed it again at the Toronto Film Festival, where it made a splash. Because of these two festival showings, the studio was able to turn that buzz into ticket sales. Warner Bros. followed up those successful screenings with a very strong marketing push, and had Jackman and Gyllenhaal hit the talk show circuits hard. The benefit is in this opening weekend, as Prisoners needed a decent-sized opening so that it could remain in relevance for as long as possible. Award consideration notwithstanding, Prisoners is also going to be a decent sized hit compared to budget. This one cost only $46 million to make, and should earn a minimum of $60 million stateside. It should also improve on that amount overseas, as Jackman is a big worldwide draw.

The good news at the box office begins and ends with Prisoners. Second place goes to last weekend’s number one film, Insidious Chapter 2. After a big opening frame buoyed by a Friday the 13th, Chapter 2 did the usual for horror sequels and collapsed in its second weekend. After opening to $40.3 million, Insidious Chapter 2 took in $14.5 million in its second frame, good for the expected drop of 64%. Given the mediocre reviews, the Thursday midnight screenings and an opening Friday falling on the 13th, this one was destined to drop roughly and did. What it didn’t do, though, was fall 76% like The Purge did, so there is an upside. Additionally, let’s remember that Chapter 2 cost Blumhouse Productions and FilmDistrict only $5 million to make (although back end revenue deals will increase that cost considerably). Insidious Chapter 2 has already earned $60.9 million, compared to the first film, which finished with $54 million. I also expect Chapter 2 to do some hefty business overseas, much like the first Insidious ($43 million foreign take).

Third this weekend goes to The Family, the Robert DeNiro mob comedy executive produced by Martin Scorsese and directed by Luc Besson. With those names, one might think the hold this weekend would be fantastic, but that’s not the case. After opening last weekend to $14 million, The Family lost half its opening weekend audience. The budget for The Family is listed at $30 million, but I can only believe that number if the three big leads (DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones) worked for free. So like Insidious Chapter 2, one has to think that a revenue sharing deal is in place, which artificially lowers that budget amount. The Family has earned $25.6 million thus far, and is going to struggle to make $40 million stateside. However, given Luc Besson’s name and the actors above the title, it might do okay overseas.

Fourth is Instructions Not Included, the upstart Spanish language comedy released by Pantelion Films, a Latino-focused distributor backed by Lionsgate. The studio continues to add screens for this one, and the move appears to be paying off, as it has now spent four weekends in the top ten. This weekend, Instructions Not Included pulled in another $5.7 million, up a surprising 17%. So far, this small, $5 million film has taken in $34.3 million, and is now the sixth biggest foreign language film ever in terms of North American release.

Screen Gems’ opener, Battle of the Year, went down in flames this weekend. Released to just 2,008 venues, Battle grossed only $5 million, taking in a hurtful opening weekend venue average of $2,490. Battle cost $20 million, a number that might be okay for a Step Up release, but not as a standalone title. Stomp the Yard this is not, and Battle of the Year will be in the $1.99 bin in no time.

Sixth goes to We’re the Millers, the top ten stalwart that’s been with us now for seven weekends, after opening August 7th. Since then, the Millers have not seen a drop higher than 40%, and the trend continues this weekend. We’re the Millers earned $4.7 million in its seventh frame, good for another small drop of 14%. The $37 million comedy has now pulled in $138.2 million stateside and $70 million overseas, making it one of the bigger success stories of the summer. We’re the Millers is now the 39th biggest film to never hit number one, as this weekend it passed The King’s Speech ($135.5 million) and Live Free or Die Hard ($134.5 million) on that list.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler, another film that’s been with us for over a month, finishes in seventh. The drama pulled in another $4.3 million over the weekend, falling 22%. The $30 million release starring Forest Whittaker and Oprah Winfrey has now pulled in $106.5 million stateside for The Weinstein Company, and is just starting to go into overseas release.

Dropping from third last weekend to eighth this weekend is Riddick, Vin Diesel’s passion project that didn’t quite go the way he expected. After opening to $19 million, Riddick dropped 64% in weekend two, and sees a similar drop this weekend. Riddick earned only $3.7 million this time around, and declined a somewhat better 46% again this weekend. Made for $38 million, Riddick has a domestic gross of $37.2 million, but will be bailed out by the overseas take, which has surpassed the $35 million mark.

The Wizard of Oz surprises with a ninth place finish. The classic film was given the 3D treatment and released to the big screen (and bigger IMAX screens) and the result was terrific. The Wizard of Oz took in $3 million from only 318 screens, giving it a venue average of $9,503. What a great way to introduce kids to this iconic entry.

Finally in tenth is Planes, the Disney Cars knock-off. Poorly made cash grab or not, Planes has stayed in the top ten for seven weekends, and picks up another $2.9 million this frame. It just drops 8%, but will thankfully be gone next weekend as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 debuts. So far, Planes has earned $86.5 million on the domestic front.

In limited release this weekend, two potentially big films opened. Ron Howard’s Rush debuted on five screens and took in $200,000, giving it a venue average of $40,000. Starring Liam Hemsworth and propped up by fantastic reviews, Rush will be with us for a while, if American audiences turn out for a movie about Formula One car racing. The other limited release this weekend is Enough Said, starring the late James Gandolfini and Seinfeld’s Julia Louis Dreyfuss. Enough Said debuted on four screens, and pulled in $240,000. It had a venue average of $60,000.

Overall this weekend, the box office looks almost exactly like what you'd expect from late September. The top 12 films earned $75.5 million this weekend, virtually identical to the $75 million the top 12 found last year, when three films debuted between $12 and $13 million. Next weekend is packed full of new product, as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 captures a ton of screens. Also in theaters is Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Don John and Baggage Claim, a romantic comedy from Fox Searchlight. On top of those releases, Universal will expand Rush into over 2,000 theaters, so the next frame should be a busy and interesting weekend at the box office.